John Weeks, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/26/2012 03:12:18 PM PDT

Last Wednesday we charted the history of San Bernardino in a way that made the city’s recent bankruptcy filing seem predictable, even predestined.

We saw how the city was abandoned in its infancy by its founders and how it has been a troublemaker ever since, acting out its aggression in ways that have kept it poor, disreputable and always under suspicion. (To read again, head online to and click on Opinions, then Columnists, then on my column titled “SB bankruptcy both inevitable, impossible.”)

Today we will tell the story in a different way, and bankruptcy will seem like a shocker. A total surprise ending.

Wednesday’s exercise was depressing, but today’s offers hope for the future that San Bernardino can be saved. Wednesday’s saga was titled “San Bernardino Bankrupt? Inevitable!” Today’s title is “San Bernardino Bankrupt? Impossible!”

Let’s begin, shall we?

The city was founded in 1851 by pious Mormon colonists from Salt Lake City. When the settlers were recalled to Utah by their church in 1857, it was a setback for San Bernardino. But the city rebounded starting in the 1870s when a booming citrus industry combined forces with the coming of the railroad to generate incredible wealth and growth throughout Southern California. San Bernardino became the gateway, the crossroads, the center of that prosperity.

Some of the West’s most opulent hotels were built in the city. Wealthy families of the East built winter mansions here. Hot water spa resorts at Urbita Springs and Harlem Springs drew huge crowds of fun seekers from all over the Southland. Arrowhead Springs became a playground for the rich and famous. Arrowhead Spring Water became a national brand.

San Bernardino built an opera house in 1882, four years before there was one in Los Angeles. The nation’s greatest stage stars of the day performed there.

In 1911 the first National Orange Show was held in the city. It would become Southern California’s most famous annual exhibition and festival, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year from around the world.

San Bernardino’s grand department store, Harris’, became a fashion leader, luring shoppers from Los Angeles, San Diego and all of Southern California. Sage’s Complete Markets, a San Bernardino-based chain, became America’s first “one-stop” stores.

Hollywood filmmakers test marketed their new productions here, and San Bernardino became known as the movie premiere capital of the world, with screen stars mingling with fans under the bright lights of the city’s downtown theater district.

San Bernardino was one of the West’s great party towns, and indeed the fun got out of hand starting in the 1920s. The city’s red-light district became well-known internationally. In the 1940s police shut down the district at the behest of the Pentagon, which wanted to build an installation in the city as part of its preparations for World War II.

What eventually would become Norton Air Force Base brought new jobs, money and growth to the city.

In the 1940s and ’50s, San Bernardino entrepreneurs started what would become a new global industry – fast food. They invented the concept of the drive-in restaurant, founding the McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Der Wienerschnitzel and other chains.

Starting in the 1950s and ’60s, as a new interstate freeway system made America more mobile, San Bernardino became a Route 66 landmark and also a popular cruise capital for Southern California’s burgeoning youth culture.

In the 1960s and ’70s Swing Auditorium, on the grounds of the National Orange Show, became one of the West Coast’s premier rock concert venues. The Rolling Stones performed their first American concert there in 1964, and subsequent concerts featured virtually every major act of the era.

To read entire column, click here.